Why Philippines’ PAGASA Requires More Funding for Weather Services Centers and a Data Center for Better Forecasting

Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), a Philippine national institution dedicated to providing public weather forecasts and advisories, requires more funding for weather services centers and a data center in order to make more accurate forecasts that can help save millions of lives and stop massive damage.

Chris Perez, PAGASA senior weather specialist, believes that timely and accurate weather and climate information can aid in the public’s decision-making, particularly in the case of extreme weather disasters.

The Philippines is one of the countries considered to be most susceptible to the effects of climate change. It experiences 20 tropical cyclones on average each year. and was just impacted by Super Typhoon Karding (Noru).

Extreme weather and other climate impacts are getting worse and may become permanent as the earth continues to warm. Consequently, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres emphasized on World Meteorological Day in March that nations must invest in early warning systems and response measures to save lives.

“We must invest in adaptation and resilience. That includes the information that allows us to anticipate storms, heatwaves, floods and droughts,” said Guterres.


Republic Act 10692: PAGASA Modernization Act

The national weather agency must modernize its physical assets and operating methods in accordance with Republic Act 10692, also known as the PAGASA Modernization Act, which was signed into law by Former President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III in 2015.

Seven years following the measure’s passage, Chris Perez and Benison Estareja stated that there have been numerous facility improvements. A document released by PAGASA to Philstar.com states that the state weather bureau has installed equipment such as 28 lightning detection systems, 17 high-frequency radars, and 53 automatic weather stations across the Philippines.

“These are installed to address the limited meteorological data in areas that are either remote or are frequented by heavy rains and weather disturbances,” said Estareja.

He further mentioned how PAGASA has widely adopted coastal radars, which are helpful in providing forecasts for fishermen and seafarers, as well as mobile radar, which is utilized for storm chasing or collecting the characteristics and parameters of a tropical cyclone.

PAGASA also installed weather stations in some provinces and set up a new PAGASA field office in an area that is particularly vulnerable to tropical storms.

Moreover, a data center as well as regional weather service centers must be established, under the modernization law. PAGASA claims that in order to increase its capacity for disseminating accurate information and flood warnings throughout the regions, it has constructed Flood Forecasting and Warning Centers in key locations. There are also river centers in each of the 15 significant river systems in the country.

The organization also set up a data center in its main office and is constructing a backup data center in Mactan City, Cebu

Through the Green Climate Fund, PAGASA is also conducting pilot research on impact-based forecasting and warning services. According to WMO, impact-based forecasting offers the knowledge required to take action ahead of disasters to reduce the socio-economic consequences of weather and climate risks.


Funding Needs

Modern facilities and equipment were purchased to help PAGASA enhance its tropical cyclone forecasting. The agency claims that its average forecast track inaccuracy dropped from 141.41 kilometers in 2014 to 58.7 kilometers in November 2020. The current track inaccuracy is much less than the 120 km number that is generally recognized.

Although there have been improvements made to the facilities and equipment, PAGASA staff members believe more funding is still required. Estareja requires supercomputers for PAGASA to run more quickly than the organization’s current system. In addition, PAGASA can benefit from supercomputers by producing more precise weather and climate change forecasts.

“The higher the number of well-maintained and high-quality data, the more accurate the weather data will be. The more accurate the weather data, the more accurate the climate data as well. These accurate climate data represent a better picture of what is in store for us in the next decade up to even the end of the century,” Estareja said.

PAGASA received P1.142 billion ($19.4 million) from the national budget’s proposed budget for the next year. The sum was a little bit more than the P1.385 billion ($23.5 million) the agency received this year. The agency’s capital outlay, or funding used for the purchase of goods and services, was not funded by the Department of Budget and Management.

“We have had no capital outlay for two years. How can we build new stations? How can we buy new equipment that is needed if we don’t have it?” said Jose Daniel Suarez, PAGASA’s Financial, Planning and Management Division chief administrative officer.

There is an unfinished building inside the PAGASA headquarters in Quezon City that started in 2018 and was intended to house the agency’s weather division and be used for training.

According to Suarez, PAGASA has asked government organizations like DBM and the Department of Public Works and Highways to provide funding for the building’s completion on an annual basis. However, even the anticipated budget for maintenance and other operating expenditures (MOOE) for the weather bureau has also been drastically reduced.

“We understand that the concern of the government right now is the pandemic. But the thrust of PAGASA is also to save lives,” Suarez said.


Better Weather Forecasting

According to Gerry Bagtasa, a professor with the University of the Philippines’ Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology, the public’s understanding of PAGASA’s forecasts is one area where improvement is needed. He observed that forecasts’ limitations and uncertainties are frequently not adequately communicated.

On its web channels, PAGASA releases forecast products frequently. Every 5 a.m., weather experts also provide weather forecasts on their Facebook and YouTube profiles, typically in Filipino. and 5 p.m. When cyclones are threatening the nation, weather bulletins and briefings are released more often.

“The other side is communication: how to let people understand the jargon involved, and have the people understand the warning enough to evoke their imagination on how the hazard will play out,” Bagtasa said.

However, according to Perez, who has worked with PAGASA for almost 20 years, the state weather office is continually looking for ways to enhance its services to the public.

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